Interview with Otis Pitts

You were telling me that after the riots you saw some needs in the community and sought to take action on it. What was it and what did you do? How did you go about it?


Well, there were of course, ah, a lot of, ah, issues that were being addressed at that time. Some were social and others were economic. Ah, of course we were more interested in focusing on the economic issues. We were, at the time, I say we, I was at the Belafonte Tacolcy Center, which is a center that Harry Belafonte helped to establish back in the '60s. Ah, and we were trying to focus on some other issues. And there were several groups that had come to Miami. The federal government was here making all kinds of promises. There were foundations here talking about helping out, etcetera. And, ah, we got involved with both the Ford Foundation in a more limited way and a local Institute of Support Corporation which is a Ford Foundation spin-off, ah. Got us interested in looking at economic development issues as such. And of course one of the things we focused on was the project we're sitting in right now. Ah, the, it was an abandoned super market after the riots of 1980. They had been looted and, ah, vandalized. There were several groups attempting to do something about it. There was one group called the Godfathers, as such, that was formed by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. And I, it had an attitude, I think, about Black businesses in the Black community, which I, personally had problems with. Ah, but I was, ah, I'm happy to say that, ah. Also, they were unsuccessful in doing anything about this project. After many efforts, you know, trying to do something about it in different configurations, they had some sense that, to make this project viable, you should bring the Black churches in, you know, and convince them that the issue, ah, you know, shop at a shopping center, etcetera, the kind of, ah, naive view that often is held by the larger community. Ah, we of course, approached it in a totally different way. We felt that a real market existed for a shopping center here and we set about proving that that market existed and to approach it as a purely business proposition. And based upon that, we then approached an anchor tenant about the, ah, about the shopping center, several super market chains, but of course ended up discussing, one serious discussion with Winn-Dixie about it and purely on a business basis. Ah, we didn't talk about our community needing a super market. We didn't, ah, sort of, target it at Winn-Dixie's emotions. We came in here and said that there was a market available here, ah, that, ah, there was some money to be made, ah, that we one, were capable of producing, ah, ah, a shopping center, if you will, developing one for them. Ah, we could retrofit the space to meet, ah, their needs, etcetera. And we convinced them in that, that, that was, that we were capable of doing that.